Reflections on the Fight to Protect Childhood: What Have We Done? Where Are We Going? What Are We Up Against?

by Denisha Jones

It has been one year since I became the Director of Early Childhood Organizing for Defending the Early Years. Through this position, I can work with other early childhood educators, play defenders, and protectors of childhood to harness the power of an early childhood profession united in a common vision. As I continue this work with the help of so many across the country and the world, I will use this space to reflect on the journey. I invite you to share your reflections as well so that we may continue to learn from each other and build community.

What have we done?

Together we have raised our voice throughout commitment to advocacy. Early childhood teachers and parents in Brookline, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire are demanding kindergarten return to play. Early childhood providers in Florida worked together to push back against the misuse of kindergarten readiness exams.  Every day we hear more teachers speak out and demand policymakers listen to the experts, read the research, and put the best interest of the child at the center of policies.

This year we have seen a resurgence in the fight to bring back play! From the 1st International True Play Conference in Anji China to a timely new book on the importance of play, we continue to advocate for the best evidenced-based curriculum for young children…FREE PLAY! And we continue to demand all children have access to play by ensuring recess is guaranteed every day. As our work leads us to examine how best to support children and families experiencing trauma and adverse childhood experiences, we will recognize that play is a necessary ingredient for building resiliency and combatting toxic stress.

What are we going?

I hope that as we return to play, we will embark on the Global True Play Revolution. I recognize the variety of issues impacting the early childhood profession and our ability to protect childhood, but I am believer that a focus on the right of all children to play and the role of teachers and parents to support play will provide immense assistance to all the work we do. Through play we can address early childhood teacher pay disparities, increases in academic instruction, standardized testing, online preschool, and the harm caused by family separation. As we research the work of play defenders, we can develop theories of practice that anchor our vision for the future and guide the path towards collaborative action.

What are we up against?

I wish I could say the struggle was over, and we won the fight, but the truth is we still have much work to do. We are up against misguided belief that low-income children of color need more academic instruction at an early age to close the so-called “achievement gap.” We are up against the insistence that young children must spend their days learning to be obedient and conform to unrealistic expectations so they may one day be “college-and-career ready.” We are up against the reality that school-to-prison pipeline often begins with the initial preschool expulsion for Black and brown children. We are up against a society that refuses to take shared responsibility for ensuring that we all begin life with proper prenatal care, access to early childhood education, and safe places to live and grow. We are up against those who do not believe all children deserve what the child of the richest whitest family receives.

We are up against a lot. So much that it might appear to be too much. And some days, it will feel that way, but we must remember that there are many opportunities for joy and love in this struggle. I have witnessed both, and it sustains me as I continue to engage in this work. I hope your reflection on the journey to protect childhood fills you with the nourishment you need to keep going!

Send your reflection to denisha@dey.org